With approximately 100 library titles and unreleased acquisitions at stake in the $90 million lawsuit against Paul Colichman and Stephen Jarchow's Regent Entertainment Group, some of the impacted filmmakers have told indieWIRE they are considering the possibility of uniting for a class-action lawsuit.
The Regent filmmakers must determine if they can retain rights to their films or receive any of the payments they initially expected from the company. Filmmakers tell indieWIRE they signed ownership rights over to Regent ranging from 18 to 30 years. Court documents value the Regent library at $10 million.
However, one veteran attorney said while filmmakers should take action, class-action isn't the way to go.
"These people need to be fighting to get their films back, but they almost want to force a bankruptcy," said Rob Rader, a partner at Todd, Ferentz, Schwarcz & Rimberg who formerly worked in business affairs at MGM and currently teaches entertainment law at Pepperdine University.
Rader pointed out that individual lawsuits from three licensees will force an involuntary bankruptcy. While that might not bring the filmmakers any financial rewards, Rader said, "At least they would be able to get their movies back."
Among the titles at risk are the 2009 U.S. acquisitions for festival hits Asghar Farhadi's "About Elly," which won Berlin's Siver Bear, and Canadian superstar Xavier Dolan's acclaimed directorial debut, "I Killed My Mother," which won several awards at Cannes Directors' Fortnight. Both remain unreleased, although Dolan's second film, "Heartbeats," will be released by IFC next week.
Noteworthy library titles include "Sex Positive" directed by Daryl Wein, who later made "Breaking Upwards" and is currently developing two projects at Fox Searchlight; the animated Israeli film "$9.99" and the Robert Pattinson vehicle "Little Ashes," in which the "Twilight" star plays a young Salvador Dali.
And, as Regent's frequent presence among GLAAD nominees and Outfest lineups testifies, the company has been a gay media linchpin; Colichman and Jarchow were even honored at the 2007 ACLU Pride Partnership Awards. In addition to its focus on movies that appeal to the gay audience, Regent's holdings include The Advocate and Here! Network.
"It boggles the mind," said Jody Wheeler, screenwriter of Regent production "Heat Wave," which is cited in court documents. "They took every new crop of gay filmmakers, pulled them in, signed them up and either didn't pay them or paid them poorly and then let it go."
Several filmmakers told indieWIRE (requesting anonymity, in light of pending litigation) that they never received any payment from Regent, or — in at least one case — were forced to hound the company for over six months in order to receive the initial advance. They also claim Regent films were sold to international territories without filmmakers' knowledge.
"It's just been one bad situation," said Nicholas Eliopoulos, director of "Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies," which was bought by Regent after it premiered at the 2008 Telluride Film Festival and is one of the relatively few Regent titles that isn't targeted specifically to the gay audience. "My goodness. We couldn't have ended up in a weirder situation."
Regent Releasing CEO Mark Reinhart did not respond to repeated requests for comment; nor did the plaintiff's attorney, Daniel Murphy at Loeb and Loeb. Nevertheless, the specific claims made against the company are thoroughly laid out in court documents that track increasingly bizarre actions by Regent's owners.
The impetus for the bank's lawsuit dates back to 2005, when Regent secured a $55 million loan from Merrill Lynch to cover distribution costs. In 2008, Jarchow allegedly formed the distribution companies Family Media Home Entertainment and Liberation Productions International, which entered into distribution agreements with Regent. In other words, Jarchow created companies that made deals with each other, leading many to speculate that he was sending the loan money directly into his own pocket.
That jumbled arrangement was only one chapter in the chaotic saga of the Regent empire. The founders are an unlikely business duo: The openly gay Colichman -- who, curiously, is not listed alongside Jarchow in court documents -- previously worked at Fox and ran film company I.R.S. Media. He met Jarchow, a Republican tax lawyer from Texas, in the mid-1990s and the duo established Regent Entertainment.
The 1998 success of Regent's star-studded "Gods and Monsters" propelled the company toward more gay-specific entertainment, including dozens of in-house productions that mostly took the form of low-budget B movies.
"It was pretty plain that the only people who had any real power at that place were Colichman and Jarchow, who was funding everything," said Wheeler, who said he was paid $5,000 to write two versions of "Heat Wave" -- one gay, one straight. "The only person who decided on everything was Colichman. You would take ideas to him and he would either buy them in the room or turn them down. It was almost as if the guy wasn't in business to make even halfway decent stuff."
Wheeler said many colleagues complained about payment problems at Regent but saw few options for legal recourse. "The one thing that Regent did brilliantly was write iron-clad contracts that gave them all the rights and kept people from bad-mouthing them," Wheeler said.
The lawsuit against Regent, a 57-page document filed by Merrill Lynch and Bank of America in Los Angeles Superior Court at the end of January, alleges that the company took out loans in excess of $90 million for projected distribution costs. Those loans, however, were funneled into shell companies owned by Jarchow and Colichman, and many of the films were never released.
After several failed attempts to contact the company, Merrill Lynch decided to auction off Regent's loans in October 2010. Surprising the room, Colichman and Jarchow showed up at the auction and entered a bid on the debt. As a preventive measure, the bank outbid the businessmen and won back the debt for an additional price tag of $6 million.
As Regent faces its charges, the filmmakers must decide what to do next. Eliopoulos said that he hopes to return to the festival circuit with "Mary Pickford" and eventually release the film on DVD. "We've got to work with our attorney to see what we can do," he said, noting that he sold the movie to Regent based on a personal connection and never had a proper sales agent. "We didn't really have a chance to shop it around, and that kinda makes me sad."
While Dolan declined a request for comment from indieWIRE, he recently released a statement about his experience with Regent at the recent New York premiere for "Heartbeats." Citing "a distributor of questionable professionalism" that bought his first movie, Dolan wrote in an e-mail read aloud before the screening that the company "finally filed for bankruptcy and never released it."
That bankruptcy claim has not been confirmed, but it will take a long time to unravel the layers of accusations surrounding Regent's actions.
"What these people have done makes it a hundred times harder for us to get our dreams off the ground," Wheeler said. "They've poisoned the fucking pot for everybody."
Filmmakers who have movies in Regent's library and would like to share their experiences can contact indieWIRE at firstname.lastname@example.org. All information is treated as strictly confidential. Our best list to date of outstanding Regent titles is on the jump.
These titles were acquired by Regent and are currently unreleased.
I Killed My Mother
Mary Pickford: Muse of the Movies
These titles are currently listed on the Regent website as being part of their library.
The Art of Being Straight
The Blue Tooth Virgin
Breakfast with Scot
The Burial Society
Cut Sleeve Boys
Eleven Men Out
Fall of Hyperion
Friends & Family
Guys & Balls
The Hottie & the Nottie
House of Usher
The Hunting of the President
I Can't Think Straight
In Her Line of Fire
Kiss Me Deadly
Kiss the Bride
Leather Jacket Love Story
Looking for an Echo
Looking For Cheyenne
Margaret Cho: Assassin
Merci Docteur Rey
The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green
Nina's Heavenly Delights
On The Other Hand, Death
The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela
Race You To The Bottom
Sex, Politics & Cocktails
Shock to the System
ShowBusiness: the Road to Broadway
The Song of Sparrows
The World Unseen
Yes Nurse! No Nurse!
The following titles are not listed on the Regent website. However, in June 2009 Regent announced that it made an exclusive arrangement with E1 Entertainment to release its films on DVD for the next three years. These titles are part of E1’s Regent library.
A very cool christmas
The awakening of spring
The Brotherhood IV: The Complex
The Brotherhood V
The Brotherhood VI: The Initiation
Force of Impact
Just Say Love
Long Term Relationship
Manuela and Manuel
Murder in Fashion
Third Man Out
Too Cool for Christmas